Drumming up support

Kelly Tyko

On September 7, FAU’s new marching band will strut across the field of Pro Player Stadium for their first performance. But were they to debut today, they couldn’t.

That’s because the group has a handful of members and even fewer instruments.

“We’re going to do it,” insists Band Director George Sparks.

Right now, though, things don’t look that way. The band just includes Sparks and few student members, instruments are still to be bought, and there’s less than six weeks to their deadline.

But it’s not their fault. Sparks just got approval to orchestrate the marching band on July 1.

“This is going to be yet another thing that helps school spirit,” says Student Body President Pablo Paez. “Finally FAU’s on the map with athletics and now we need a marching band.”

And FAU officials and students believe that if anyone can start this program, Sparks can.

“He’s really built this program and he’s the exact man to run this program. The man knows his stuff,” says Angela Couture, a non-music major, who’s in other bands at FAU because of Sparks.

Sparks, who has led college marching bands at the University of Central Arkansas, Utah State University, and has also took university bands to professional football games like the Cotton Bowl and the 1990 Super Bowl, says having a marching band is important for FAU.

“It will be a thing that I hope adds color to campus life in general.”

Six weeks to go …

FAU isn’t the only school that will have a new marching band this year. More than a year ago, Florida International began piecing together its band called the Golden Panther Band or “La Banda del Sol.”

But for the FAU marching students, they will have to squeeze in all the things FIU did in a year in just under six weeks.

“This is not the normal evolution of a band program. We’re trying to really compress the time to get this started. I feel that the sooner we get this going the better our football program do.

“Just like Coach Schnellenberger did with football, we want to get this program up and running,” Sparks says.

In fact, football is the reason that a marching band is forming, Sparks says.

“As soon as we decided to do football, I decided we should have a marching band. That’s a standard compliment to football.”

But problems with funding caused Sparks to stall his plans for a year. “There wasn’t a lot of support last year,” Sparks says, staying mum on the reasons. “But now, everyone’s excited.”

Sparks, however, still has concerns. He says, “I’m worried about the whole thing, but I’m actively engaged in making sure everything gets done.”

Making lemonade without lemons

Some details are hard to plan. When lacking instruments or members some things have to remain uncertain.

“Without instruments you don’t have a band. You can have the students and they can march and sing, but that’s not a marching band,” says student Ron Gilbert says.

Gilbert, who’s assisting Sparks, thinks students will flock to the program.

There’s a certain criteria needed to join, Gilbert adds. “As long as you got the spirit, then we want you,” he says.

For this year, Sparks thinks the band will have between 50 and 100 people. He says, “We’re going to recruit freshman, returning band students and students from the entire student body.” he said, adding that finding willing participants shouldn’t be hard, because many high schools in the area have large band programs.

Sparks is currently holding auditions and will be recruiting through the first week of fall classes. The first practice will hopefully be that week too, Sparks says.

That can be hard if the $65,000 dollars of instruments haven’t arrived, as Sparks says, “We’ve got to have them before we can practice.”

If the new instruments don’t arrive there are a few other options. One is to practice with concert instruments. But with those they “can’t play on the field,” Sparks says.

Another option is to borrow instruments from area high schools. “That’s what we had to do with the pep band. But the schools don’t always like borrowing and it’s not the ideal situation.”

Then there’s the option Sparks dreads: delaying. “I don’t want to delay,” he says.

Once there are students and instrument, Sparks says, the practices will run like clockwork.

“The process is very orderly. We’ll have music picked out and we’ll have the show designed,” Sparks.

Non-traditional equals traditional at FAU

One of the reasons Sparks wants a marching band for FAU is because he witnessed what it can do for team spirit. It’s those experiences that he wants to recreate at FAU.

Sparks recalls seeing the marching band at Louisiana State University (LSU): “No one enters the stadium until after the marching band is there. The band comes down a hill, called Death Valley, and plays “Catch that Tiger.”

“It’s a pre-game tradition. Here at FAU we’re going to need to develop traditions,” Sparks says. “Every weekend can be like a Mardi Gras celebration.”

It’s a day that might be years off, maybe when a football stadium is built on campus, but Sparks says he knows that “without a doubt” it will happen.

For the first few years, though, FAU is going to have to be unlike LSU – it’ll be non-traditional. Even the band members will dress non-traditionally.

Rather than wearing the traditional band uniforms, that wouldn’t be ready for eight months, the band will likely dress in tropical-print shirts, khaki pants and hats — what Sparks calls the “football in paradise” look.

“And it might become a tradition to stay non-traditional,” Sparks chuckles.

Marching to a new beat

One tradition that might start this football season, thanks to the addition of the marching band, is higher attendance. Football Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger says, “What’s a football game without a marching band?”

Definitely not as entertaining, Schnellenberger and Sparks agree.

“The football game has to be entertaining whether you win or lose. And that’s why we’re there,” says Sparks. “To try to make it entertaining.”

“A big marching band provides a lot of volume and a lot of beat. In a lot of ways, it speaks to the primal nature. That volume and that beat gets you up and going and gets you excited,” Sparks says.

Getting the crowd excited is the whole point, Gilbert says. “We do this to increase spirit and to increase music. We are the spirit people. We play the music that you get rocking to,” he says.

And the band won’t only get people rocking at sporting events. The band will perform at pep rallies, groundbreakings, student events, and alumni events.

But before all that happens, the band needs to make it to their first game. To do that Sparks has four goals to accomplish: Get uniforms, get instruments, get students, and get them on the field,” he says, adding one more: “Oh, and survive the first year.”

After this is accomplished, Sparks is determined to march on. He wants to “have a 200 piece marching band, 200 players. And I want 400 students who want in.”

If you’re interested in joining the marching band, contact Sparks at 561/297-3822 or by email at [email protected]